April 19, 2008

The Obedient Servant: Isaiah 50:4-9

Isaiah 50:4-9 contains the third of what are called the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah, which are poems or songs that told the Israelites some details of the coming Messiah. Isaiah originally sang or chanted these prophecies to his contemporaries, probably in the temple court.

The first of the Servant Songs we examined is found in Isaiah 42:1-9. In that passage, God the Father identifies the future Messiah as “My Servant,” who would have a quiet and patient demeanor, would bring comfort for the weak and oppressed, would bring truth and justice, and would be a light to the gentiles. That song also makes the point that He would open mankind’s eyes and that His advent is sure.

The second servant song is Isaiah 49:1-13, which tells us the Messiah will come in human form, He will be an effective teacher, He will glorify the Father, was sent to save Israel, he will be rejected, and He will save all mankind. It further tells us that those who despised Him will one day worship Him (a prophecy of His second advent) and that He represents a covenant to all people.

Today, we focus on the third of the four Servant Songs, which concentrates on the obedience of the Messiah to the will of the Father:

4 “The Lord GOD has given Me
The tongue of the learned,
That I should know how to speak
A word in season to him who is weary.
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear
To hear as the learned.

5 The Lord GOD has opened My ear;
And I was not rebellious,
Nor did I turn away.

6 I gave My back to those who struck Me,
And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard;
I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

7 For the Lord GOD will help Me;
Therefore I will not be disgraced;
Therefore I have set My face like a flint,
And I know that I will not be ashamed.

8 He is near who justifies Me;
Who will contend with Me?
Let us stand together.
Who is My adversary?
Let him come near Me.

9 Surely the Lord GOD will help Me;
Who is he who will condemn Me?
Indeed they will all grow old like a garment;
The moth will eat them up.

The Obedient Servant

The Messiah would be obedient in speaking and teaching (4)

The Messiah would be the one to share the Father’s message with the world. Jesus’ interaction with the Jewish leaders in the temple, found in John 8:25-32, bears on this point: “Then they said to Him, ‘Who are You?’

And Jesus said to them, ‘Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.’ They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.’ As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’” (The NIV translation offers a clearer translation of verse 28: “Jesus said, ‘I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.’”)

The Messiah’s message was not always what the people wanted to hear. In John 6, Jesus tells His followers that those who trust in Him will need to show the same sacrifice and commitment as He would experience. Many of them responded, “This is a hard saying; who can understand (accept) it?” (John 6:60). “There are some of you who do not believe,” (6:64). Then John writes, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (6:66).

His message ultimately would lead to His death. He knew this, but never held back on His teaching. Many times, in fact, we see Him confronting the scribes and Pharisees in the temple, with crowds around them listening.

He was blunt and honest with the people in urging them to trust in Him for their eternal life with the Father: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).

To a people in awe of wealth, power, and strength, He said, “blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5).

To a culture steeped in the tradition that righteousness meant following the letter of the law, He taught: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Jesus was also encouraging with His words, as Isaiah 50:4 tells us, “That I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” In Matthew 11:28-30, we find an example: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

It’s not just His words of commitment that must impact us, but also His words and ministry to those who are weary and heavy laden; burdened, sad, hurting inside, discouraged. He is ministering to us right now.

The Messiah would be obedient in listening (4-5)

This was in sharp contrast to the people to whom Isaiah delivered his prophecy, whose idea of the Father’s power and care had to do with preserving the cultural status quo and enlarging the nation politically and militarily, rather than accepting the Father’s standards of justice and personal righteousness.

Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah in 50:5: “And I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away” The Messiah would “stay on message,” as our politicians today would say. Indeed, the Messiah in His first advent “stayed on message” and did not waiver from the teachings the Father sent Him to deliver.

Listening to the Father and not turning away is also a contrast to the people of Israel to whom Isaiah was prophesying. They had been given the patient teaching from God through His prophets, but had not listened, as pointed out in Isaiah 48:8: “Surely from long ago your ear was not opened.”

The Messiah would be obedient in suffering (6)

Jesus was sent not just to teach through His preaching and teaching, but also through suffering and dying for our sins. He was obedient.

Remember, this was prophesied about 750 years before this suffering actually happened to Jesus. Isaiah’s prophecy, in verse 6, quotes the Messiah: “I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. We know from the gospels the truth of the predictions. He was flogged (Matthew 27:26), mocked, and spat upon (Matthew 27:30). The phrase in Isaiah 50:6, “plucked out the beard,” is an expression that means to shame someone (to shame a man so much so as to take away any vestige of manhood).

The Messiah would be obedient in accomplishing His purpose (7-9)

The Messiah says, in verse 7, “I have set my face like a flint.” Flint is a hard, dense rock and very hard to break, and the simile here is that the Messiah would not be swayed from His purpose. And in the gospels, we find this to be true of Jesus, who was not swayed from His purpose by hardship, opposition, or betrayal. Jesus did not have just a strong sense of purpose, but a perfect sense of purpose. The Messiah is quoted in verse 7, “I will not be ashamed,” and we find in the gospel accounts that though people sought to mock and shame Jesus, He persevered, because “He is near who justifies Me;” (Isaiah 50:8). Therefore, the Messiah can say, “Who is My adversary? Let him come near Me” (verse 8).


I don’t want for us to study the prophecies just to gain knowledge. We want to know them so that we can be more like our Savior and Lord, so we can understand Him and know and do His will. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:18, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

So the question for us is, what do we know about His will for us from this third servant song?

First, we must be like Him in speaking and teaching: share the gospel message, encourage and admonish each other, use our communication to build the kingdom, not criticize, gossip, and judge others.

Second is for us to listen to what God has to tell us, through the Bible, through each other, through the inner voice every Christian can hear. We must not turn away from His voice, pray not just to request Him to act, but pray for a better understanding of His will for us.

Third is suffering, learning to deal with life’s circumstances in a righteous manner and to do God’s will regardless of the consequences to career, finances, and pride.

Finally, we need to commit to steadfastness in purpose: doing God’s will regardless of hardship, opposition, embarrassment, or even betrayal.

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